I've started teaching myself how to design. It's something that has intimidated me for years, because what comes out in Photoshop isn't the same thing as what's in my head. And that's really frustrating!
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You've just gotta fight your way through. -- Ira Glass
"Designing is hard," I tell myself. So until this point that's where I have stopped. There's something -- maybe many things -- in your life right now that are just like this. I want to help. Doing what you want to do in life is so deceptively easy that we think that it's too hard. So we don't do it. We make excuses, how much else we have going on and that starting that new thing might compromise both the new thing and the old things we were doing.
So here's what to do, to start doing whatever it is you want:
Make an Intention Statement
I want to learn to design UI and features for web and mobile apps.
This not only expresses what you want to do, but also where or how you're going to do it. You're giving yourself parameters to follow and keeping the scope of the thing you want in your life relatively narrow (thanks to Buster Benson for the tip on intention statements).
Overcome the Inertia of Doing the First One
Install Photoshop. Pay for it (money is a great trigger to inspire action). Think of something tiny to design, like an ordered grocery list. Start, and be comfortable with the fact that it's not going to be perfect or even up to your high standards for your own work.
Tell People What You're Doing
Have someone else who might ask you, "How's designing going?" To which you'll reply "It's tough but I'm enjoying it. Making leaps and bounds each day." Or "it's not going to so well, maybe I need to take a class."
Do it again
Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do. If you want to be a surfer, you've got to surf more than a few times. If you want to design, you have to keep designing.
The best way to learn something is to throw yourself in and do it. Do it really poorly for a few days, then less poorly for a few weeks. Then look at that! You're getting better! You're getting good! If you want something, you've got to get dirty. You have to be comfortable with the change in your life, maybe in your lifestyle. And be comfortable doing really work for a period of time that you're not too happy about. But don't worry, it gets better. Stick with it.
Translating "I wish I could..." into actual results [Zack Shapiro]
Zack Shapiro is an engineer at TaskRabbit. Follow him on Twitter @zackshapiro.